Meet Ralph Hudgens Georgia Insurance Commissioner

What Does an Insurance Commissioner Do?

From this website: The Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner is a state executive position in the Georgia state government. The commissioner heads the Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, which is responsible for regulating the state’s insurance industry and ensuring fire safety in the state. The commissioner is elected to four year terms in federal midterm election years.

The current commissioner is Ralph Hudgens, a Republican, who was first elected on November 2, 2010. He took office on January 10, 2011 and is up for re-election in November 2014.

IN-HudgensRalph Hudgens is the current Republican Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner. He has served in this position since January 10, 2011.

As commissioner, Hudgens heads the statewide office responsible for regulating the state’s insurance industry and oversees all Georgia fire safety initiatives.

Hugens first won election to the seat in 2010. He defeated DemocratMary Squires and Libertarian Shane Bruce in the general election on November 2, 2010, garnering over 53% of the vote.

Hudgens is up for re-election in November 2014 and he is running for a second term.The general election takes place November 4, 2014.

Before assuming the role of state insurance and fire safety commissioner, Hudgens served as a Republican member of the Georgia State Senate, representing the 47th District from 2003 to 2011. Prior to his Senate election, he was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1997 to 2002.

Hudgens has two decades of experience working in the private sector, including as the founder of Quality Propane, Inc., which he sold in 1987. In 1989, Hudgens was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to serve as State Executive Director for the United States Department of Agriculture. He remained in the position until 1992.

Biography

Hudgens worked for the Agricultural Chemical Division of the Shell Chemical Company from 1968 to 1986. He also was Founder/President of Quality Propane Incorporated from 1983 to 1987. He has been President of Hudgens Enterprises, Incorporated since 1987. He is also currently President of Diamond Outdoor Incorporated.

Education

  • B.S. in Agriculture – University of Florida

Political career

Georgia Insurance Commissioner (2011-present)

Hudgens was elected to the statewide office of insurance and safety fire commissioner on November 2, 2010. He was sworn in the following January.

Controversies

With regard to Obamacare, as the Georgia Insurance Commissioner, Hudgens has opposed the implementation of Affordable Care Act and vowed to be an “obstructionist” while speaking to a group of Republicans at the Tillman Hanger Rally in Floyd County, Georgia. After pausing to let applause roll over him, a grinning Hudgens went on to give an example of that obstructionist behavior, this one involving so-called “navigators” who are being hired to guide customers through the process of buying health insurance on marketplaces, or exchanges, set up under the federal program.

“We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance,” Hudgens said. “The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we’ll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we’re going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write ‘navigator test’ on it.”

Hudgens clearly thought that was a pretty cute way for state officials to obstruct and delay implementation of the program and to ensure that it doesn’t work well for Georgians. Judging from their reaction, his audience thought so too. The question is why he thinks such steps are necessary. However, Hudgens later admitted “I spoke to a Republican group in Rome, Ga., and I said I was going to be an obstructionist, but I can’t be. I mean, I was talking to a Republican group and I was throwing them some red meat.” Sure you were Ralph…

At a recent Georgia GOP public event, Hudgens was speaking and happened to notice a journalist, Nydia Tisdale, videotaping the event, which caused him to direct a comment at her, publicly stating “I don’t know why you’re videotaping”. This led to some apparent discomfort, in spite of her already having had approval to record the public event. Subsequently the police arrested Tisdale, with accusations currently being leveled both at the police as well as at Tisdale. At this time, the dispute has not been settled but video has surfaced of the event.

Distortion of facts on Affordable Care Rate Hikes

 

In the following audio interview from Republican blog Zpolitics at the 8:15 mark in the timeline Hudgens says California rates would increase an average of 146% increase in their premiums. He also mentioned Ohio and Colorado. He further added Georgia rates “were right there in line with other states” with rate increases with states that chose to implement ACA.

Actual Numbers on Increases

California Insurance Commissioner Jones said individuals this year paid between 22% and 88% more for individual health insurance policies than they did last year, depending on age, gender, type of policy and where they lived. so although it is true there was an increase it was not close to 146%. Unlike Georgia where the insurance commissioner has some power to control rate hikes, no such mechanism exists in California. They have proposition 45 on the ballot this November to add that safeguard. 2015 rate hikes are expected to be around only 4%. Most of the plans that saw large rate hikes were bare bones skeleton plans also known as catastrophic plans only used for emergencies with very little coverage for normal medicare care. These type of plans disappeared under Obamacare when all plans had to meet a minimum of coverage.

So yes it is true that many people saw some rate increases in 2014 as many of the cheapest insurance policies being sold did not offer sufficient coverage to satisfy the essential health benefits outlined in the Affordable Care Act. I do not think anyone would argue that those rate hikes were a disappointment to even the most ardent ACA supporters. The one bit of good news is the rates have now stabilized and most states are seeing very low rate hikes for 2015.

Obamacare in Georgia by the Numbers

Georgia will have nearly double the number of insurers selling policies through HealthCare.gov in 2015 as it did in 2014. In addition, three companies — as opposed to one last year — will sell policies statewide.

Nine insurers are participating in the Georgia health insurance marketplace for 2015, including four who are new to the exchange this year. The returning companies are Alliant Health Plans, Blue Cross, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, and Peach State Health Plans. The new entrants to the marketplace are Cigna, Coventry, UnitedHealthcare, and Time Insurance.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, premium changes in Georgia for 2015 will range from 7.1 percent lower to 18.3 percent higher. On average, premiums will increase 3.7 percent. The figures are for plans sold both on and outside the exchange.

Given that southern Georgia had some of the highest premium costs in the nation for 2014, the modest average increase is welcome news for the second year of Obamacare.

More than 316,500 Georgians enrolled in qualified health plans (QHPs) during 2014 open enrollment. That’s nearly 30 percent of the estimated 1,063,000 Georgians considered eligible to enroll in the insurance marketplace by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Among Georgia residents selecting a QHP, 87 percent qualified for financial assistance, compared to 85 percent nationally. A report released in June by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed the average monthly premium, after tax credits, for Georgia consumers was $54. Sixty percent of enrollees pay $50 or less per month after subsidies. Georgia’s $54 average is second only to Mississippi, where the average monthly premium after subsidies is just $23.

Ten percent of Georgia residents selected a bronze plan (20 percent nationally), 73 percent selected a silver plan (65 percent nationally), 6 percent selected a gold plan (9 percent nationally), 9 percent selected a platinum plan (5 percent nationally) and 2 percent selected a catastrophic plan (2 percent nationally). Thirty-one percent of Georgia enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34.

Hudgens implemented a requirement that navigators, who help consumers use the marketplace, pass the test that insurance agents are required to take. That requirement is much more stringent than required by the health care reform law, and Hudgens openly stated it was intended as obstructionism. At the end of its 2014 session, the Georgia Assembly passed a bill that prohibits establishing a state-run marketplace, disallows the use of taxpayer money for navigator programs, and forbids government employees from advocating for Medicaid expansion.

Health Insurance Premiums Can Be (And Always Have Been) Volatile

We also need to remember that prior to Obamacare rates were very volatile. In 1999, the average health insurance premium consumed about 11 percent of a median family’s income. By 2010, those premiums had almost doubled, to 19 percent of income. A recent study from the Commonwealth Fund found that from 2008 through 2010, prior to the implementation of the ACA, insurance premiums in the individual market grew by an average of more than 10 percent each year.

The study also showed the wide variation in premium increases from state to state. In 2008, average rate increases ranged from 2.8 percent in Iowa to 14.7 percent in Wisconsin; in 2009, from 4.1 percent in New Jersey to 20.1 percent in Connecticut; in 2010, from 3 percent in Idaho to 21.8 percent in Nebraska. The study could not identify any clear geographical pattern to the increases.

Rate increases in the individual market varied significantly by plans as well as carriersbefore the ACA. In 2008, 1 percent of customers enrolled in plans saw premiums increase by an average of 28 percent; 45 percent of enrollees had increases ranging from 10.8 to 18 percent; 15 percent of enrollees saw no change or a slight reduction in premiums; and 1 percent saw a reduction of 9.5 percent.

Keep in mind those rate hikes were before the ACA.

How Did Ralph Hudgens do the Last Four Years?

The guy who laughed as he deliberately made it harder for the citizens of the state to sign up for the ACA?

The guy that said, I don’t know why you’re taping this.” and then a female journalist, who had permission to videotape a GOP event, put a hand over her camera, grabbed her, refused to identify themselves, threw her on top of a table, then claimed she was the one one fighting and resisting when the video shows she was simply being dragged along by a giant brute who appears to be a police officer, while Dawson County Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Clary Umberger can be seen in the frame saying, “I am sorry that people are treating you this way. This is wrong.” Of course all of the officers are cleared and the journalist is being charged.

Georgia, unbelieveably, allows the people who are being regulated to donate to the people running for the office that regulates them. That’s why Hudgens is the darling of the insurance industry. No wonder Hudgens largest donors include the insurance industry, hospital associations, pharmacy groups, followed heavily by the lawyers and lobbyists, the health care industry, car title loan industry, and a hodgepodge of others.

Gee, I wonder who wins out on the regulatory end of things when all of the money comes from those who are supposed to be regulated? This is the guy who picks the pool for the ACA? Does he really look out for the consumer and give people the best and cheapest choices or is he trying to put the kibosh on the ACA and providing us with the most expensive and worst choices out there?

It can at least be said he seems to be better able to manage his assets than Nathan Deal. In 2013 his $115,702 salary as insurance commissioner didn’t even cover his reported $118,064 in expenses but luckily he received an addition $500,000 from rent, royalties, dividends, and interest. His net worth was $8.184 million. This info was obtained from his publicly available statement of income from the media.ethics.ga website. With an income of over $600,000 a year I am sure he can easily empathize with all the poor and uninsured in Georgia who are struggling. 🙄

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens has garnered national attention for his comparison of pre-existing medical conditions to a car wreck that is “your fault,” but his spokesman revealed that Hudgens himself is among the millions of Americans with a pre-existing condition.

Hudgens is a prostate cancer survivor. He had surgery to remove the cancer 11 years ago when he was 60 and still gets checked regularly. Such empathy.

Summary

Georgia has an insurance commissioner that has no actual insurance background, a degree in Agriculture not in Business, Finance, Insurance or anything close to relevant to that position nor any insurance experience. His business background is in propane gas and after he sold that business has been a politician for nearly the last 20 years. He is the darling of people he is supposed to regulate in terms of donations to his campaign. Can a person that makes $636,000 a year relate to people that are living paycheck to paycheck? Is this person likely to be able to relate to families struggling to put food on the tables let alone worry about the high cost of healthcare and insurance rates since in his own words he aims to be an “obstructionist” to more affordable plans.

Having a net worth north of $8 million and an annual income of over $636,000 does not make him a bad person or disqualify him in any way. But it does explain some of his very out of touch statements and opinions concerning Georgia family’s who are mostly making less than $50,000 a year. It reminds people of Romney’s 47% comment and his wife’s multiple Cadillacs with that same inability to relate to actual middle class families who are hurting and unable to afford even one caadillac let alone a fleet of them. Hudgens is likely wealthier than 99.5% of the people in the state he serves as insurance commissioner which helps explains his frequent foot in the mouth comments. Maybe he needs to tour the state, visit the poor, the uninsured, the rural and urban hospitals instead of wining and dining with rich lobbyists and insurance big wigs in Atlanta.

At the CSRA Republican Women’s Club meeting, he criticized the Affordable Care Act by likening the patients with preexisting condition to a car driver that has gotten in an accident and seeks car insurance post incident. He has since retracted his remarks and stated, “I’ve had family members, I’ve had friends – who have pre-existing conditions. It’s not the person’s fault they have a pre-existing condition.” Proof is in the pudding Ralph and you sure need to retract a lot of statements.

Does being emotionally handicapped and lacking empathy due to Georgia’s dysfunctional political culture count as a pre-existing condition? Just asking, Mr Ralph Hudgens…It’s unfortunate that Georgians pay little attention to the post of Insurance Commissioner, know nothing about the candidates or the job they are elected to perform. It’s just a ‘down ballot’ office where a name is picked after the ‘important’ candidates have been selected.

Luckily, on occasion a man comes along who so clearly demonstrates why it is important to pay attention to this post. It is incumbent on ALL Georgians to select Commissioners who are not the hand picked tools of the insurance industry. We deserve a Commissioner dedicated to protecting the interests of the Citizens rather than each quarter’s insurance industry profit. His opponent Liz Johnson has 40 years experience in the insurance field unlike Hudgens with zero. Will Georgia continue electing wealthy and old republicans who lack experience in the office they serve and who are self-professed obstructionists or give someone new with actual integrity, experience and a heart a chance?

 

 

 

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The Barrow Donkey
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Great piece, Alan. Thanks for this and the rest of your posts. There are too few opposing voices in this state and yours is a welcome arrival. Can’t wait to see Ralphie debate in two weeks.

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